There are so many sound reasons to eat seasonally — from the environment, sustainability and cost to finding the fullest flavours.
One particularly rewarding, less well-documented benefit to planning your meals around nature rather than a supermarket shelf is the natural variety it brings.
Two of life’s biggest joys are exploration and experimentation, and being presented with an ever-changing line-up of available produce necessitates both of these things — whether you’re cooking at home or planning a restaurant menu that shows off the season.
If you stick wholeheartedly to nature’s calendar, no fortnight’s meals will be the same as the last. And thanks to varying weather (and changing climate) neither will one year’s timeline match the previous. You really do never know what ingredients will be rubbing shoulders with each other until they’re picked and on the plate.
As we move into the latter part of spring and see the first signs of summer, Britain’s produce is at its most fast-paced. Each week we are seeing the arrival to market of new seasonal stars, from young veg to eager fruit and flavour-packed leaves.
Top of the pile at this time of year is England’s almighty asparagus, a vibrant, verdant envy of the world. In fact, it is to many the regimented rising of the first asparagus stalks above soil that signals the start of the warm season and all the fabulous feasting that goes with it. Eat the grassy young shoots as simply as you can — perhaps lightly grilled and drizzled with sea salt and a touch of oil.
It’s also the time for samphire, known as asparagus of the sea due to its fondness for rocky, seaside locations. For chefs and diners alike, its subtle salty tang is hard to beat and goes especially well with fish. At Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe, Executive Chef Allan Pickett pairs it with roast hake, cockles and cocoa beans.
Samphire also pairs extremely well with crab, its salty tang cutting through the richness of the buttery brown meat. Handily, crab is also coming into season — it’s as if nature new what it was doing!
If it’s a question of the season’s most high-profile ingredient, Jersey’s famous Jersey Royal new potatoes would take the crown. They are so iconic that they have a Protected Designation of Origin thanks to their light skin and nutty, earthy characteristics. Cook them simply to let these flavours shine, and whatever you do don’t peel them. They are on the menu at Swan West Malling, simply crushed and served with roasted sea bream, confit fennel and horseradish yoghurt.
Wild garlic, a much sought-after leaf with a beautifully gentle garlicky flavour, is also bang in season and a true short-lived pleasure. If you’re lucky enough to be able to forage your own, then enjoy it. The rest of us will have to pay but it is worth it. At Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe, Allan Pickett uses it to make a vibrant sauce to accompany slow-cooked ox cheek, making the most of its citrusy freshness. It also goes incredibly well with lamb, a meat which has become the poster child of spring.
Another food with no shortage of seasonal profile is rhubarb, which is also now in full flow. Whether from its heartland around Yorkshire or elsewhere in the UK, this unique vegetable is the perfect foil to creamy rice puddings or panna cottas. And when the English weather rather reliably leaves us cold, what better way to warm up inside and out than with a classic rhubarb crumble?
The best part of the season is that all of this really is just the tip of the Iceberg lettuce. This wonderful season is a time to revel in nature’s abundance and ensure you feast on as much of it as you can, because the beauty of seasons is that just as fast as they come around, off they go again.